The Brief 2016 Beat-Down: or, Blowing Up the Death Star and Blasting On to a Better Year, Yeah?

We need to blow this thing up and fly on.

Yes, indeed. In my mind – a mind that seems to comprehend everything through Star Wars analogies – 2016 is the Death Star and so I’ve come back at the climax to fire some farewell shots to set-up the spectacular finale where we destroy the big gloomy grey sphere o’doom and swoop off into a starry future full of hope. (Woohoo!)

So here we are primed for the finale and here I am, back out of nowhere (Hyperspace) after going missing for a while. (Sorry about that. I’ve been busy, y’know?) I’m Han Solo/James Clayton, it’s the end of the year and we’ve all had enough of 2016 so let’s be done with it and get on with 2017. In (very) brief, here’s my beat-down of the year that’s been this year, and the year that hasn’t been this year. (I really liked the year that wasn’t. Can we go back and have that instead?) After a cursory glance over some photos, I reckon that this is the image that encapsulates 2016 best…

Ruins, rumination...

Ruins, rumination…

Yeah, I’m feeling that (and as a big believer in ‘Show, don’t tell‘, I won’t write an essay explaining why this particular photo of me moping in Pompeii is the perfect summary of 2016). In total, 2016 has been, erm, ‘interesting’. To paraphrase the lady who works in the Asda down the road and who’s convinced that she’s the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens: “It were, like, sometimes like the best a’times, weren’t it? But then it were like, y’know, the vurry worst, in’tit y’know?

She’s right (about 2016, not about being the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens) but because I’m sick of dwelling on the dark, depressing, disappointing and just-too-damn-deathly I’m going to focus on the fun bits. Thus, [INSERT YOUR OWN END OF YEAR ROUND-UP OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS AND CELEBRITY OBITUARIES, ‘CAUSE I CAN’T DO THAT CRAP ANY MORE AND I HAVE NO DESIRE TO NOW… *single tear*]

First up, the personal stuff: over the course of 2016 I’ve taught a lot of English lessons, doodled many doodles, had a number of adventures and misadventures, geeked out on some great culture and not written as much as I’d have liked to. I’ve shared good times and bad times and rad times with ace old friends and excellent new friends. Lots of learning. Lots of experiences. Lots of stuff that is worth talking about, reflecting on and sharing with people. In total, I guess that means that the year can’t just be dismissed as a bad one to write out of the history books.

I’ve been places this year (geographically, I mean). I returned to Milan at the beginning of the year and enjoyed it afresh for a couple of months. Moreover, I explored Italy further this year and highlights include falling in love with all the creatures in Genoa’s aquarium (awww, the manatees!) and with Naples and its surrounding historical wonders (see photo above).

Later on I had a fantastical time in Prague with my bro, my dad, the Golem and Franz Kafka’s nightmares. Moving on to summer school work, the Surrey countryside and weekends hanging around in London were lovely and then I got to autumn when I completely upped sticks and moved to live and work in Bologna. Bologna is beautiful and now, at the end of the year, I find myself in Italy again – teaching at a superb language school and based in a city that, in so many ways, is brilliant. I’ll write at length about Bologna in the future. (Yes I will. I promise.)

As for cultural stuff, shout out to all the art galleries and museums I’ve popped into this year; thanks for blowing my mind. Shout out and thanks as well to Welcome to Night Vale (now 100 episodes weird!) and the Bruce Lee Podcast for stretching my mind and accompanying me on all these long walks I keep on taking. (Why? Because Bruce Lee once said: “Walk on…“) Musically, this year my favourite fresh things have been Babymetal, Weezer’s White Album and Square Hammer by Ghost (which I believe is one of the greatest rock songs of all time, for the record).

The vast majority of new movies I’ve managed to see have been terrific and my top five flicks of 2016 would be: Kubo and the Two Strings; Captain America: Civil War; Tale of Tales; The Revenant; and, of course, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It always comes back to Star Wars, and that brings me back to blowing up the Death Star and hurtling on into 2017. Right now – with a slightly fatalistic head on – as I face up to Reality and the challenges ahead I feel that my spirit animal is a bizarre amalgamation of all the lead Rebels in Rogue One. (In other words, in my mind I’m running around a cruel and ruined galaxy, fighting for impossible causes and I know I’m going to die but I know that I am one with the Force and the Force is with me and it’s all fantastically cinematic so I don’t give a crap.)

More optimistically, I’m psyched for 2017. I’m resolved to do even better and have some fun. I’ve got fresh inspiration and motivation to create things and I’ll be blasting ’em out as a work ’em out. (Yes I will. I promise.) I’ve got a very, very long New Year’s Resolution list but I won’t bore you with that. Ultimately, it’s all about positive energy and enthusiasm, essential humanity, creative action and love. It doesn’t matter if that sounds simplistic and vague – love is easy and it’s blatantly clear to me that, after 2016, we need to go forward with more love.

Let’s go do that then. Now I’m going to blow up a Death Star ’cause it was just too doomy and hug a Wookiee. So long, 2016. Here’s to 2017…


Things That Are Gonna Be Big in 2014…


It feels good to be in the Future-Now at the beginning of a whole reboot/fresh start/new era. Seizing the spirit of change I will now list my New Year Revolutions and New Year High-Def Resolutions… or not, because it’s actually better to keep them to yourself. Sage advice: internalise your self-improvement schemes and stay pretty quiet about them and you have more chance of actually achieving your idealised goals. You also decrease third-party pressure and are less likely to irritate people with your your pity-parties, your self-loathing and your self-flagellation.(And you’re good, by the way. Best wishes and all power to you as you go about your empowered self-improvement missions.)

Instead I’m going to list the things that are going to be big in 2014. I mean huge. I’ve consulted the Oracles, whispered with the ravens and squeezed my scrying teabags and all of them concur and can confirm that the following things are going to be hot, on trend and oh-so-zeitgeisty over the next year. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon right now and embrace the hip crazes. The things that will be big in 2014 are…

  • Godzilla.
  • Labyrinths and mazes.
  • Artichokes.
  • World War I-era facial hair.
  • Men calling each other “Sister” and women calling each other “Brother” and everyone completely smashing the idea of gender-specific terms of endearment for friends. Believe it, brothers and sisters.
  • Top-knots.
  • Prog rock revival.
  • Amateur astronomy.
  • Amateur astrology.
  • Brutal honesty.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Brown paper bags.
  • Dissonant audio.
  • Séances.
  • Steam.
  • Supermarket sabotage.
  • Overlong shoelaces.
  • Putting vanilla syrup on everything.
  • ‘Adopt-a-Bee’ conservation schemes.
  • Da dance craze dat all demz be callin’ ‘Da Soup-Doop’.
  • Grow-your-own garlic.
  • Big eyes.
  • Minotaurs.
  • Kit Harington.
  • Japanese mythology.
  • The critical re-evaluation of phrenology in academic circles.
  • Wardrobe sharing.
  • Iran at the FIFA World Cup.
  • ‘Reclaim the Comments Section’ activism movements and the consequent prolonged troll battles that follow.
  • Warzone tourism.
  • Corporate assassinations.
  • Sci-fi poetry.
  • Stroking people’s faces (no longer seen as ‘a bit weird’).
  • Diaries as a smarter alternative to stream-of-consciousness venting on social media platforms and on the public spaces of the internet.
  • Presenting Shakespeare monologues in surreal fashion and uploding them on YouTube.
  • Owning a pet sheep.
  • Independent political candidates.
  • Rock Paper Scissors tournaments.
  • Origami.
  • The word “Ishrific!” which means “Whoa! It’s terrifically shit-hot!
  • Elaborate faking of deaths for life insurance scams or for sympathetic tributes on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The flaming unicorn-horned crocodile “ARE YOU FOR REAL?” GIF meme.
  • Storytelling chain-letters.
  • Insomnia.
  • Baristas and other service industry workers adopting kooky pseudonyms and work personas as company policy.
  • Polygamous marriages.
  • Affecting an Eastern European accent.
  • Customised coffins.
  • Coloured cardboard boxes.
  • Tibet.
  • The insult: “You genefreak!“.
  • You, genefreak.
  • Research into gene therapy to modify and perfect your impefect genes, genefreak.
  • Spontaneous unprovoked laughter.

And if the rest of the world fails to turn these things into trending topics and doesn’t catch on to the fact that they’re the cool stuff making 2014 so 2014, I’ll just celebrate them myself until the wider Universe adopts them as well. I’m a futurist and a forward-thinking fashion trendsetter. Mark my word and heed the soothsaying sources: 2014 is going to be an excellent year and it’ll be especially immense for everything in the lengthy laundry list above.

Welcome to 2014, brothers and sisters! It’s gonna be ishrific!” I say in an affected Eastern European accent while pouring vanilla syrup all over an artichoke. Oh my Godzilla, I’m psyched about this future-now. Ha ha, ha ha ha!

Thought Bubble 2013: Reflective Post-Comic Con Round-Up…

Thought Bubble 2013 happened and it was quite a happening. I had a great time over the weekend and came away in a discombobulated state of upbeat energy, worn-down exhaustion and fresh creative impetus and inspiration. All those different forces are not necessarily compatible so I’ve been sort of drifting around in a smiley-but-weary slightly-dissonant post-geekout Zen fog. Still, even though I think I’ve recovered now I’m still feeling the comic convention rush and that is a right-on feeling that can just run and run and run, heck yes. (And I feel like I’ve been overdosing of awesome experiences lately. A couple of days before the con I got to see the Pixies live and meet comics writer hero Matt Fraction on a pre-con signing tour within the space of a few hours. I’m on a high! I’m surfing waves of euphoria and beatific double rainbows all over the damn show! Yeah yeah whoop whoo!)

Back to Leeds, and at TB I occupied an exhibitor’s table in the Allied London Hall which was an overfill venue rigged up to meet high demand. There I sat/stood touting my wares and here is an iffy action shot of me and my wares at my table…

Showin' off my stuff with jazz-hands showmanship...

I took the James Clayton show on th’road…

Though it can get a bit lonely sitting behind a table for long, quiet periods (as you can see from some of the pass-the-time con doodles I’ve posted on my sketch blog), I really enjoyed it. People might not buy much of your junk and shower you with coins but it’s worth it just to be there, in that space and soaking up that atmosphere. Having people pass by my stall, speak to me, spend a moment contemplating my creations and pick up my cards is a bonus. Smiles, compliments and positive responses when I explained my ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ shenanigans, talked about The Working Barbarian and my other activities were an extra-bonus. I’m a lonely guy who spends most of his time creating in complete isolation so I appreciate those rare occasions of social engagement. I therefore would like to say a big thank you to all those souls who hung around for a bit and said nice things. You are all lovely.


Fight! Fight! Fight! RoboCop vs Timecop…

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! RoboCop vs Timecop

RoboCop vs Timecop

I like time travel, I like sci-fi action movies and I like writing fantastical martial arts violence. All these things came together and ended up taking form in another fan fiction escapade I wrote for Andrew Blair‘s sublime and ridiculous blog of pop cultural carnage.

This week’s fresh edition of Fight! Fight! Fight! is RoboCop vs Timecop (a.k.a. Peter Weller’s Officer Alex J. Murphy vs Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Max Walker). It has time travel. It has action. It has subversive undercurrents critiquing capitalist culture. It has deep and profound points about the way that life can change in a single moment of shocking violence.

Life. Death. Destiny. Deep and disturbing…

And if that time travel trip is too distressing and violent for your tastes you can fly on over to Den of Geek and read my most recent Friday column which is all about the romance of time travel.

Oh, time travel! It’s fantastic! It’s beautiful! It touches me on many levels, bruises me all over and brings tears to my eyes!

Well, yes it does, yes it has and yes it will. Feel free to read and join me and have fun with these things I find fascinating…

A Long Time Ago in a VHS Player Far, Far Away…

May the Fourth be with you! It’s Star Wars Day! I love Star Wars! We love Star Wars! Let’s all dance like the happy Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi and celebrate the glorious saga!

I believe we should do this because Star Wars is a bit special and as a fan I think it’s important to take a moment to cherish the precious pop culture phenomenon that’s touched us all, whether we personally wanted it to or not. I will be doing this by listening to John Williams’ scores and by flagrantly dropping quotes and references into as many conversations as possible (this is easy if most of your conversations are with yourself). I will also snatch a few moments to watch some classic movie scenes and may also consider upping the ante on my inactive ‘I Am Han Solo’ campaign.

Swept up in the excitement I thought I might head out today for a frenzied shopping spree and pick up a load of action figures or some Star Wars Lego but I’m best off keeping a tight hold of my few credits and remembering that a Jedi does not value possessions. Still I do have some Star Wars paraphernalia from my childhood knocking around and today is the day for looking at it with a little extra love in my eye. It’s the day for digging it out of cupboards, holding it in a suffocatingly tight grip to then exclaim in your Vader voice “I have you now!

Here’s what I have: triumphant orchestral blast to salute something from a long time ago…

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Star Wars! Interactive video board gaming! Destroying the evil Galactic Empire with plastic pieces and cardboard thermal detonator cards!

Manufactured in 1995, it’s Star Wars: The Interactive Board Game.  It’s here in my hands and I’m desperate to play it with my Rebel comrades for some timely competitive fun on May 4th. Alas, I can’t because I don’t have a VHS player. Star Wars may be eternal, but technology marches on and out-of-date devices die out. Cue sad Wookiee howling or, if you can stand the prequels (and you should stand them and enjoy them), press that Anakin Skywalker Wail button.

Nevertheless, my memories don’t die but linger on and talk to me in moments of cold despair (they’re just like Ben Kenobi appearing to Luke when he’s freezing on Hoth after his escape from captivity beneath the claws of the Wampa). I remember fun sessions in front of the gameboard and TV, listening the instructions of Darth Vader on the screen before me. I remember trying to thwart his villainous plan to destroy the Rebel base on D’rinba IV by depositing bomb cards around his Death Star recreation. Look at those figurines and the nice artwork that graces the playing area!

... nice game with nice details..

… I don’t know what they’ll achieve by putting an R2 unit in the Detention Block…

At a particular point in the game Lord Vader would point at players and say something along the lines of “You! You now taking your turn! I have you now! You will now serve me and exchange your playing piece for the Stormtrooper figure!” And so, the Power of the Dark Side claimed a helpless innocent and they were compelled to bow down and serve the Sith Master. As a child this blatant undermining of any notion of freewill in a boardgame shocked me to the core. Still, the Rebels tended to get it together and triumph over Evil by the time the 60 minutes were up. The Force was strong with them… and they had the remote control to pause if the clock was working against them.

All in all, it was great fun and I’d be forcing it on my family tonight for May the Fourth celebrations if I had the right kit. I don’t so I’m just going to sit and look at it while listening to the Cantina Band tune. It’s also highly likely that I’ll have done a whole load of other saga-related stuff to pay tribute to the space opera that raised me. I urge you to do the same. May the Fourth be with you and May the Force be with you, always…

... and now I'm all choked up...

… and now I’m all choked up…

Irrelevant Judgement and the Doctor Who Feedback-Amplifier…

I have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. You have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. They have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. Yet they are all out there on the internet clamouring for attention, expressed through various social media channels.

We live in a democratised information age that allows and encourages freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Simultaneously, though, it also empowers pompous arrogance and self-entitlement in a public space. At least that’s my opinion, and my opinion is unimportant and irrelevant.

I’m just blasting on my own blog – an ill-informed personal opinion zone – here but there is a wider sociocultural concern on my mind (on my Twitter feed, on the comments section of every single article I read, in the articles themselves, etc. etc.). Our society is very judgemental and technological advancements and changing times have conspired to make us even more judgy. What do you think? Like or dislike this? Vote for your favourite! Give us your feedback! Comments? Stick up your star rating!

We’ve got to a situation where we’ve got to have something to say about everything that happens or that we experience. (We don’t, by the way, and if we do that we’ll exhaust both our minds, mouths and fingers.) The thing that’s most troubling in this idea though is how there’s an explicit suggestion that there has to be a value judgement in that. You’ve got to like or dislike something. You’ve got to have an opinion on it, rate it accordingly and mark it down for posterity. You can’t be ambivalent or just let something be – it has to be categorised and subjected to a review treatment.

You realise that this goes beyond enjoyment of pop culture art when you find yourself batting off emails asking you write a review and provide a star-rating for a USB stick you ordered off Amazon. I’ve got to have an opinion on a pendrive? What if I don’t want to have an opinion and subsequently share it? Does anyone actually want to know what I think about the crap I buy, the stuff I watch or the experiences I immerse myself in?

Maybe, maybe not but most of the time it’s probably the latter because I’m not a person of immense wisdom or significance (Yet. I’m working on it, a’ight?). I’ve got some awareness and expertise in certain fields and likewise, I respect the thoughts of others who I know know about specific things. I flock to them and consult their personal experience if I wish to get an enlightened perspective and I figure that most people do likewise. Or do they? Do people put what people think – subjective opinions and not objective intellectual appreciation – above all else or, in fact, are people putting their own subjective opinion as the paramount truth?

Have we now got to the point where the opinion is more important than the actual original thing that we’re forming an opinion on? Across journalism across all media formats there’s now a greater emphasis on what the Twittersphere is saying and it’s mostly in my opinion (and my opinion is irrelevant and unimportant) asinine and adds nothing. Opinions are like arseholes in that everyone has one (some people have two) and they are best dealt with artfully one at a time in beautifully-lit private spaces. Everyone’s arsehole all at once forcefully shoved in your face, however, is a violent pornography nightmare.

Social media is a giant magnifying window in which to advertise your arsehole and all that dribbles out of it and collectively our culture encourages expressive incontinence. I’m moved to muse after contemplating the kind of things that I’ve observed in cyberspace over the space of the past week – lots of judgement and a lack of judicious, conscious thought on behalf of a lot of people (myself included). So many people rushing forward to spray their self-righteous opinions all over everyone else, but no one cares but that doesn’t matter ’cause everyone’s entitled to our opinion and this is how we do this right?

Skipping past current affairs and the spheres of politics, sports and suchlike – all infernal flame grills that require a Hazmat suit which I’ve left at the drycleaners – I’ll round up by coming back to the entertainment arena and the thing that prompted this on-the-fly thread in the first place: Doctor Who. It’s a popular BBC TV programme that airs on Saturday nights and follows the adventures of a Time Lord and his blue police box. It’s got wide appeal, tradition, history and oscillates between all kinds of stories, themes and settings each week. There’s a lot of interest and things that are worthy of note here – it’s a pop cultural concept encompassing multiple concepts and it inspires further thought and discussion.

In the aftermath though the emphasis appears to be judging each episode and then by extension the entire current ongoing series. In particularly the judgment is a value-based one of whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s a rating review and as soon as the closing credits have rolled I get the sense that people are falling over themselves to race onto the internet to slam down their opinion. But who cares if you enjoyed this week’s Doctor Who? Your opinion is unimportant and irrelevant! No one cares because they care too much about their own unimportant and irrelevant opinion! To log on to the internet at the weekend is to bear witness to the Doctor Who Social Media Spitting Contest. Everyone seems desperate to gob off and regurgitate their personal bile in the aftermath of eating up the broadcast episode. I sometimes wonder whether the draw of Doctor Who is now working out what you’re going to say about it after watching, how you’ll publicly judge it and how sure you are of your position in case you end up engaged in a spitting contest with someone who just happens to find exception to your hacking phlegm.

I think (and this is my unimportant and irrelevant opinion) that too often we, as pop cultural consumers, are approaching everything through a paradigm of “is this good or bad?” as if we are pre-emptively reviewing or rating the experience as we go through it. That affects your mindset and locks you into judgementalism. Sometimes this is required if you work or write as a critic  but on a functioning human level, it’s unnecessary. You don’t need to judge everything or form an opinion on everything and then weigh in by sharing it on Twitter or another online space or in real life. (And there is no real life. This is all an illusion and that’s not an opinion but actual fact.)

If you let go of that obligation – an obligation encouraged by all this technology and the social media connections we’re slavishly hooked up on – and you detach yourself from the evils of judgementalism you may be able to experience life as it is. Doctor Who just is. The film you watched just is. The product you just spent money on just is. The meal you just ate just is. Life just is. You don’t need to rate it, review it or stick a thumbs up or thumbs down on it every single time. What’s more you don’t need to tweet it out to everyone and force your judgement on everyone else. Attachment is the cause of suffering, and that’s Buddhist wisdom. Ah, satori

The side-effect of everyone forcing their judgement on everyone is that these opinions become even more unimportant and irrelevant and everyone’s just drowning in noise and even more apt not to listen. That’s just my opinion though and my opinion is unimportant and irrelevant…

Sci-Fi Cinema Stimulation, Deep in Oblivion…

Following up from last week’s excitement about The Hieroglyph Project and awe-inspiring possibilities of implementing science fiction ideas in actual reality, I want to write briefly about sci-fi film. I’ll keep it concise, ’cause your attention span probably can’t take it and I should save my longer, lyrical waxings about movies for proper film columns that haven’t been dashed off like spontaneous blog posts.

This weekend I went and saw Oblivion and I really liked it and got a lot out of it. Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek also really liked it and got a lot out of it, consequently exploring some of it in this spoiler-packed investigatory piece. It’s a compelling picture that touches upon a lot of resonant themes and, holding back so I don’t spoil it for people (it’s best off seen as cold as possible), it got me grappling with questions about existential purpose, memory, humanity and its relationship to both itself and technology. Big themes, my brethren. It appealed to me because I find this stuff stimulating and enjoy it when my pop culture stirs my soulstuff and massages my grey matter.

Sci-fi is my cup of tea and I dig the genre’s aesthetic trappings anyway. Oblivion reminded me of so many classic science fiction features and a few other things like the Portal videogames so it appealed to me. It didn’t just feel like a flagrant rip-off, however, and I recommend it as an intelligent and subtle big-budget film. Marketing and potential audience misconceptions may have it saddled as a brainless Tom Cruise action blockbuster but that’s not what it actually is at all. Another Den of Geek link here: this interview with director Joseph Kosinski discusses the original drive and vision behind the project and highlights the problems of pitching a film like this to both studios and marketplaces.

It’s been pretty disappointing to come away from Oblivion to read reviews that, for the most part, have been very dismissive of the movie. Aside from the outright unimpressed reviews (2 stars and total disdain) there are a great many that damn Oblivion with faint praise and admire its visuals and special effects but critique it as lacking intelligence or human interest.

Once again, I’m reluctant to delve deep into it for fear of spoiling what’s potential a very rewarding surprise cinema experience for someone. Still, I will say “Fuck you, Sally!” and state that, in my humble opinion, there’s a lot of intellectual depth and humanity embedded in the story and eking from between the frames. I’m a human being with some intelligence and I got it and I’d encourage others to watch it to see if they share my experience and not those who found it lacking on various levels.

Of course, experience of film or any artwork is subjective and maybe I’m very sensitive to the sci-fi genre in particular. I’ve found in recent years that the most resonant and affecting movies – on both an emotional and intellectual level – have been what you might categorise as sci-fi. Mind-expansion, extraordinary interest and masses of ideas are always in these stories if you care to engage with them. Even if they’re impressing themselves as a straight-forward action flicks, there’s always depth beneath the surface as this philosophical analysis of Dredd shows.

I’m not convinced when works of the genre are dismissed as ‘all style and no substance and/or no soul’ and honestly believe that, in terms of cinema, we’re currently experiencing something of a Platinum Age of Sci-Fi. There are so many excellent films being made and exciting proposals being greenlit that it’s glorious to be a genre fan. These are ambitious pictures of great intelligence – both emotional and cerebral intelligence – and they’re all accessible as both entertainment, brainfood or android-chickensoup for the soul. A few sci-fi films – films that have made me think and feel – from the past few years that I personally recommend and feel back up my conviction: Moon; The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the ApesIn Time; District 9; Safety Not Guaranteed; Never Let Me Go.

There are more but most of all I’ve got to celebrate Rian Johnson’s Looper as the perfect illustration of how an original sci-fi story can touch your heart and mind. Such is my emotional connection to that film that I can’t articulate it eloquently and tend to just burst into tears as I meditate on its bittersweet beauty.

Ultimately, just watch and appreciate the rich and resonant sci-fi cinema that’s out there and happening right now. Oblivion is added to the list and in years to come we’ll look back and say “Hey, they were making pretty potent and profound films back then. What’s more, they’re awesome movies!” I’ve seen the future and know that this will come to pass…

Fight! Fight! Fight! The Hugo Weaving War…

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!The Hugo Weaving War

The Hugo Weaving War

Agent Smith vs Elrond vs Mitzi Del Bra. The main antagonist of The Matrix meets one of Middle Earth’s pre-eminent Elves and meets one of Australia’s most entertaining drag performance acts for brutal ultraviolence. I wrote this thing (and had a hell of a good time doing so) for Andrew Blair‘s Fight! Fight! Fight! blog.

Read (and weep your way through) the whole thing by punching this link.

Good Friday, Ghost Film Column…

It’s Good Friday. Have a Bloody Mary. (Or don’t. Feel free to drink whatever you want.)

Usually on Fridays a film column I’ve written goes up on the Den of Geek website. Today that is not the case because it’s a holiday and the DoG crew are taking a well-earned break (they more than deserve it and have James Woods’ approval). It’s also true that the day devoted to marking the crucifixion of Jesus calls for a more sombre mood. Trawling out my silly pop culture ramblings would probably be a bit tasteless and inappropriate… maybe.

Anyway, that’s why there’s no column on the Den of Geek website today. Still, in case there’s some regular reader (there’s a slim possibility you might exist!) out there at a complete loss today and in desperate need of an article, I’ve got something for you. Below is a substitute stand-in – ‘The James Clayton Column’ that isn’t a Den of Geek column but an empty filler to keep you going over the Easter break.

It’s basically a shortened shell of the sort of thing I usually write. I took a quick sweep across some old columns and deconstructed them a bit to see just how they work. What follows is a sort of template – a blueprint for a column that lacks actual content – built on the patterns I perceived.

I promise that next week’s will be better. In fact I promise that all future columns will be better. Anyway, here’s a standard James Clayton column/self-crucifixion exercise for you to enjoy. Enjoy and, erm, happy Easter break…

A new film is coming out. I’m excited. It looks promising. Reference that goes over people’s heads.

I’m excited because it reminds me of something else. Remember that film? I recommend that film. Allusion to obscure film. Lots of alliteration to emphasise just how awesome said film is. Some verbose gushing. Star Wars reference.

Back to new film. Mention of director and lead actor. Fanboy gushy moment praising lead actor. Says everything but “damn I wish I was that actor ’cause they’re so damn cool!” Tries to eloquently sum up their mystique. Fails and quickly moves on to a Star Wars reference.

Tenuous linking of new film to a vast important theme which is what I really want to talk about. It’s my opinion that it’s interesting and crucial. Hypothesis and question about nature of the film industry and reality with hedging words like “maybe”, “possibly” and “perhaps” to prick potential of coming across as arrogant or absolutely correct in my conviction.

It relates to other recent film. (Something in brackets as an aside. Most likely praise for film I’ve actually seen and not the new film which I’ve not.) Attempt to draw out the theme and discuss it in wider context. Pulls out a few more examples from other films – some that everyone’s seen and at least one that no one’s seen. Makes body horror gag. Hint that I like violence. Puts self down by raising possibility that I’m disturbed. Possibly disturbed by watching films. If in doubt, Star Wars reference.

Starts to get deep. Pseudo-intellectual waffle. Touches on some deep philosophy or mysticism. Retreats with “but this is not the time or place to discuss that”. Back to main gist if there was a main gist.

Comes back to pose some questions but, once again, uses hedge words so as not to come across as over-opinionated and egotistical. Really drags out the questioning. Makes a jab at the capitalist system, the industry and the unthinking idiocy of mainstream audiences. It makes me sad.

Puts forward a radical plan. Wishful moment of wanting to do something crazy with own life or the film industry. Star Wars reference. Gag that goes over everyone’s head. Some more fanboy gushing full of alliteration.

Inarticulate ramble about the magic of movies and how great everything is. Mini-manifesto moment. Possibly a Star Wars reference. Raises film I’d intended to talk about in the beginning and possibly a literary reference to look extra-smart. (Something in brackets as an inconsequential aside that only amuses self.)

Back to new film that has just been released and has inspired the column but has nothing to do with the main thrust of the column. I’m excited. There are big themes out there being tackled in movies and it’s interesting. I hope you agree or that I’ve made you think. Star Wars reference. I love movies. Sappy sign off.

The Curse of Mere Mortals Meeting the Gods of the Earth…

Every November I go to the Thought Bubble festival in Leeds. It’s the UK’s prime comics convention and it’s getting bigger – both in terms of scale and prestige – every year. In total it’s a great big geekout where all the cool kids from across the realm come together to enthusiastically celebrate pop culture, hawk their wares, buy other people’s creations, get stuff signed by stars and cosplay. Thought Bubble – because of its excited atmosphere and mix of major industry and indie artistry – is ultimately a fun experience. At least it’s a great experience if you embrace it openly and resign yourself to the fact that you’re guaranteed to fritter away lots of money and embarrass yourself in front of hip personalities. (The humiliation is the key theme of this post as you will find below.)

Yesterday I followed a link to the latest update from the TB team on the latest additions to this autumn’s stellar guest list. Whoa. ‘Twas good (is good), friends. They’re gathering some great artists and writers and, even as someone who hasn’t been fully on the pulse and deeply immersed in the comics world recently, I was excited. And then I saw one name and had a tremendous geekout moment. I’d say it was a “squee” moment except I don’t “squee” ’cause squee sounds twee to me and, actually, kind of unpleasant. I have “geekouts” – geeky freakouts – and they don’t involve squeaking or bodily fluids (“squee” feels like it should have those). If you wish to see what my geeking out looks like, feel free to get in touch and we’ll make arrangements. (Geekout moments are a daily occurrence. I’m easily impressed and emotionally shallow.)

Regardless, I saw that Matt Fraction – a man I am in awe of – on the guest list and exclaimed aloud. That was the geekout moment. The person I rate as one of the most fantastic minds in the entertainment industry and the writer of some of my favourite graphic works (Casanova and The Immortal Iron Fist) will be at Leeds. The sad thing though is that my first thought after the geekout was “Well James, you’re not going to Thought Bubble this year“.

My internal monologue, apparently, doesn’t want me to do nice things or have nice experiences like meeting my idols. This is tremendously upsetting. It’s sad to get a reminder that deep down within you there’s a cruel killjoy that wants to crank up doubt and denial. Why can’t I go to Thought Bubble? Because I can’t risk being in close proximity to someone I consider to be one of the coolest chaps on the planet because I will lose my shit – that’s the official technical term – and embarrass myself. It’ll be hideous and I will have to do ten years dungeon. You are not worthy. Avoid.

I’ve got form a history of cringeworthy social encounters with high-calibre creative personalities across a range of fields. I’ve done some uncomfortable interviews with rock bands for radio. At last year’s Thought Bubble I got starstruck when confronted with Jason Aaron’s beard and could only manage an awkward “The Other Side really moved me!” (which was an abridged version of what I wanted to tell him about how it was milestone book in my life as a comic reader). Most heinous of all was the time I went to a Neil Gaiman book reading, grabbed a copy of his new novel (The Graveyard Book) and stood in line to get it signed. What do you say to Neil Gaiman – the man responsible for Sandman comics, Neverwhere, American Gods and so much more? I said: “Thanks Neil,” then turned and nodded towards the masses and masses of people behind me all waiting for a signature and brief chat with the contemporary literary legend. “Enjoy the queue“. Arsehole. You told Neil Gaiman to enjoy his queue. Good grief.

It’s the shame of star encounters like these that fuels the immediate knee jerk response of “Thou shalt not go before the living gods! Thou art unclean and pathetic!” It’s tragic. For a start it conveniently ignores all the times I’ve met ‘famous’ folk and everything and everyone has been cool. Even more unnerving is confronting that inner critic who’s all caught up on self-loathing and disgust – a NegaJames of nasty fear. NegaJames is a bitch. Everyone’s Nega-persona is a bitch. In your inner mind, dropkick that cruel bitch tormentor and take great cathartic pleasure in the pre-dropkick beating you deliver to its Nega-body.

Last night I dreamed I was walking around an empty convention centre decked out in Star Trek memorabilia (I fell asleep reading the J.J. Abrams issue of Empire magazine which probably explains the Trek-stylings). I was all alone just wandering up and down the aisles repeating “How do I approach this? How do I approach this?” over and over. A swift inexpert analysis of this dream suggests that, yes, anxiety about embarrassing myself at an event in the autumn has irked me and is playing upon my mind.

I take several things from this silly episode and one is “be wary when you browse the internet at night before going to sleep”. The other is this: self-doubt and shame are damn, erm, shameful. If you worry about being beholden to people – now matter how awesome, awe-inspiring and exalted they are – and approach life through I mindset of I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! I’m scum!” you will only end up loathing yourself even more, sabotaging cool things and crushing what little self-respect and self-esteem you have.

In conclusion, I’m okay and am laughing at Past James that told Neil Gaiman to enjoy his queue. I’m also laughing at the hole in the wall through which I just dropkicked NegaJames. I’m also laughing at the prospect that I might be going to Leeds this November to shake hands with a comic book writer who I think is appallingly brilliant. I may even have a gushy fanboy geekout and start getting all excitable in front of high class comics creators and cosplayers but, hey, if that happens so be it. We’re all just people – awkward idiots who are a whole hot mess of emotions, neuroses, insecurities and bodily fluids. The gods are the same. Forget humiliation, hold on to that heartwarming truth and let’s be sociable and geekout without doubt…